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The Importance of Small Business Innovation Research Funding

by Walt Warnick on Wed, March 09, 2011

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The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs were established to provide funding to stimulate technological innovation in small businesses to meet federal agency research and development needs.  Under SBIR, federal agencies with large R&D budgets set aside a small fraction of their funding for competitions exclusively among small businesses.  Each year, the DOE Office of Science sets aside 2.8% of its research budget for SBIR (2.5%) and STTR (.3%) awards.  Small businesses that win SBIR awards keep the rights to any technology developed and are encouraged to commercialize the technology.


Established in 1947, the DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) fulfills the agency’s responsibilities to collect, preserve and disseminate scientific and technical information (STI) emanating from DOE R&D activities.  OSTI’s mission is to advance science and sustain creativity by making R&D findings available to DOE and other researchers and the public.  OSTI is founded on the principle that science progresses only if knowledge is shared; furthermore, OSTI is animated by the concept, now widely accepted, that accelerating the sharing of knowledge accelerates the advancement of science.  SBIR projects have been integral to OSTI’s success in speeding access to scientific knowledge to speed discovery, innovation and economic progress.


Since 2003, the Office of Science’s SBIR office has had a policy of funding knowledge technology SBIR projects under OSTI guidance that have produced technologies that today significantly benefit SC, DOE and science community researchers across the county – and around the world.  OSTI-managed SBIR projects have enabled OSTI to promote essential ongoing innovation in its products and services, which have enhanced its performance of its statutory mandate.  (Please see below for a list of technologies developed by OSTI-managed SBIR projects.) 


OSTI's uses of SBIR results, especially relevance ranking and federated search, have contributed to dramatically improved search engine service to DOE and the public.  In addition to the commercial uptake of these technologies, OSTI’s adoption of SBIR-generated innovations has contributed to a 12-fold increase in the use and visibility of DOE R&D information (from 11.4 million transactions in 2003 to 135.2 million in 2010).


Furthermore, SBIR-driven collaboration boosts and reinforces OSTI’s non-SBIR activities in pursuit of its mission.  For example, OSTI’s private-sector partnering in the multilingual translations project contributed to subsequent development and launch of DOE’s first speech indexing search engine, ScienceCinema (see


In addition, past performance is an indicator of future success; OSTI’s 8-year track record of successful SBIR project outcomes strongly suggests that further projects would continue to yield demonstrable and usable results.


OSTI arguably has capitalized on SBIR-funded projects more so than any other Office of Science program office.  Given OSTI’s tight annual budget, the funds provided through the SBIR program for the knowledge technology topic have been invaluable. 


SBIR-funded projects have led to the development of technologies enabling OSTI to perform its mission better and more widely and – a critical point in the knowledge technology world – made it possible for OSTI to continue pushing the innovation envelope.


Technologies Developed By OSTI-Managed SBIR Projects


Federated Search– Federated search enables the virtual integration of databases, where the bulk of science and technology information resides, despite the fact the databases were never intended by their creators to be integrated.  The first OSTI-managed SBIR project in the early portion of the last decade focused on bringing federated search technology from an infantile state to enterprise-ready.  Significant advances were made in this project to increase the speed of federated search and increase the number of resources that could be searched simultaneously.  These advancements have enabled the virtual aggregation of enormous quantities of scientific and technical information.


Relevance Ranking– A 2003 project entitled “Distributed Relevance Ranking in Heterogeneous Document Collections” addressed the issue of relevancy ranking within federated search.  Google attributes its own enormous success to relevance ranking.  However, the Google approach does not work in a federated search environment.  The results of this project led to exceptional real-time relevancy ranking for federated search.


Multilingual Translations – With the pace of non-English scientific publishing continuing to grow, it is vitally important that English-speaking scientists gain access to non-English content. A 2007 SBIR project addressed this need by extending the reach of federated search to non-English content.  Technology was developed that allowed a user’s search to be translated, in real-time, to nine languages (Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian) and each set of non-English results to be translated again to English.


Information Products Managed By OSTI That Have Integrated These Technologies


  • (Federated Search, Relevance Ranking, Multilingual Translations)
  • (Federated Search, Relevance Ranking)
  • (Federated Search, Relevance Ranking)
  • E-print Network (Federated Search, Relevance Ranking)
  • SC e-Journals (Federated Search, Relevance Ranking)
  • Federal R&D Project Summaries (Federated Search, Relevance Ranking)
  • Energy Technology Data Exchange World Energy Base (Federated Search, Relevance Ranking)
  • Science Conference Proceedings (Federated Search, Relevance Ranking)
  • Energy Files (Federated Search, Relevance Ranking)


Other Organizations That Have Adopted These Technologies

  • Texas Medical Center
  • Toulouse
  • UniNorte
  • Aletheia
  • Dublin Institute of Technology
  • European Parliament
  • HEC Paris
  • Del Bosque
  • National Agricultural Library
  • Raytheon
  • Scitopia
  • Stanford
  • Wheaton
  • George Mason
  • Missouri Digital Heritage
  • Houston Academy of Medicine


Walt Warnick

Director, OSTI

Page last updated on 2017-08-11 11:50

About the Author

Dr. Walt Warnick's picture
Walt Warnick
Former Director, U.S. DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information